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F1 Engine Mapping Explained For Beginners

The 2014 engine regulations were a massive overhaul for F1, with a lot of new features and quirks we had never seen in the sport before. Something that had been used in Formula 1 in the past, but was taken to a new level in the hybrid era, was the role of engine mapping on F1 cars.

Engine mapping in F1 refers to different engine settings. They can demand more power from the engine, for example, but with the tradeoff of higher fuel consumption and a shorter engine lifespan. Engine modes must remain the same for qualifying and the race.

Engine mapping brought a whole new dynamic to F1 races, and it has allowed for more strategic elements to be used in both attacking and defending. We’ll explain engine mapping in more detail below, and go through some of the different engine modes a driver may use.

What Is Meant By Engine Mapping?

Engine mapping is the engine settings that a driver or team can change. A driver can change their engine mapping from inside the car, or the team can change it when setting up the car for the session. In the past, the engine mapping would have to be changed by engineers on the car itself.

However, since the dawn of the hybrid era in 2014, drivers have been in full control of their engine performance, and they can change it on the fly at the push of a button. For the most part, this has been a welcome addition to the world of Formula 1, as it shows just how much technology has developed over the years.

What Are Engine Modes In F1?

Engine modes in F1 are simply different ways of running the power unit. F1 drivers may have up to nine different engine modes they can choose from. This, of course, varies between engine manufacturers. Some engine modes will favor performance, while others offer better reliability.

How Does Engine Mapping Work In F1?

Engine mapping works by the driver adjusting how their engine performs. Changing engine modes is fairly simple, but what happens inside the engine is much more complex. The engines can be turned up for better performance or turned down for better reliability.

When the engine is turned up, it will have better performance. This means that the car will run a richer fuel mixture (where more fuel is sent to the combustion chamber, causing more violent explosions and more power) as well as higher revs and a more aggressive ignition timing. This was the main change that happened between different engine settings in the past.

When an engine is turned down, it usually uses a fuel mixture that is leaner and therefore produces less power. A leaner fuel mixture saves fuel which can be important as drivers are not allowed to refuel during an F1 race.

All F1 teams will have ‘default’ engine modes, and this will be tweaked to suit a given driver’s preferred driving style before they’re even on track. These engine modes are essentially how the car will run during the race when the driver isn’t changing any of the other allowed settings. This will cover things like default horsepower and torque levels, and battery usage.

More Power

Turning the engine up results in an increase in power. When the engine is turned up, it will be working much harder, and will deliver better performance. This is mainly done through the rich fuel mixture that allows the engine to burn more fuel. The rev limit may also increase, which again increases the power output of the engine.

Performance focused engine modes may also use more of the ERS battery, which will create greater power output by making use of the hybrid system.

There’s a fine balance the driver needs to consider when it comes to the battery. When the engine uses more of the battery, it will need to recharge on the next lap. This is known as harvesting, and the ERS cannot be used while the engine is harvesting power. Balanced engine modes deploy the battery and recharge it in the same lap to ensure more equal deployment and battery drainage.

Better Reliability

One of the major downsides to using more performance-focused engine modes is the risk of reliability issues. When the engine works harder, it raises the overall engine temperature. This is mainly due to the engine running at higher revolutions and a rich fuel mixture causing more violent explosions in the cylinders.

Since a rich fuel mixture is used to inject more fuel into the combustion chamber, the engine will get hotter. When the mechanical elements inside the engine become too hot, they begin to expand and deform, which can accelerate engine wear. F1 engines are designed to run within specific operating temperature windows, and so running higher engine modes for too long can affect reliability.

This is crucial for Formula 1 teams as they are only allowed to use three engines over the course of the season. If they take an extra engine, they will need to take a 10-place grid penalty, which could cost them crucial points. This is something teams need to balance carefully, as they could suffer later in the season when they sacrifice their engine for a little bit of extra performance.

Fuel Efficiency

Since the engine is working harder and forcing more fuel into the combustion chamber, the car will use more fuel than before. Refueling has been banned in Formula 1 ever since the start of the 2010 season, which means that drivers need to manage their fuel very carefully.

How Can Drivers Use Engine Mapping Strategically?

One of the biggest advantages to engine mapping and being able to control it on demand is the ability to use it strategically. Drivers can demand more power from the engine whenever they need it most, or they can turn it down to save on fuel and engine wear.

From qualifying to the race, there are different scenarios where drivers might need to make the sacrifice to get some extra horsepower out of their engine. Even though it’s not good for the reliability and lifespan of the engine, it can offer the driver a boost that will give them a short-term benefit to overtake or defend.

Ultimately, it’s up to the driver to decide if the short-term benefit outweighs the long-term damage to the engine. Engine mapping has to be used carefully to ensure the engine makes it to the end of the race and makes it far enough into the season without the driver having to take an extra engine and a 10-place grid drop along with it.

Attacking

The most obvious time when the driver like to use a more aggressive engine mode is when they are attacking another driver and trying to overtake them in the race. Having more power available may allow the car to outperform the one ahead of them. During a race, this usually comes in the form of changing ERS settings.

The ERS can give the driver a maximum of a 160-horsepower boost for 33 seconds per lap. If the driver uses it at the right time, this power boost can be a huge advantage, especially when coupled with DRS. However, using it at the wrong time could make their life difficult, as they will spend the next lap or two harvesting, which means they may be slower than the car ahead.

One advantage a driver has when attacking is they can see when the car ahead is on a harvesting lap (this is when the red lights at the back of the car are flashing). This means they aren’t using the 160-horsepower boost and they will have trouble defending against an attack if the attacking driver deploys their ERS at that moment.

It should be noted that, as we mentioned earlier with the idea of default engine modes, F1 cars will usually always be deploying some energy from the ERS under acceleration. Drivers may change their engine mode to deploy more of the ERS by default, but they can also use their overtake button, which gives them the maximum energy boost possible for attacking or defending.

Defending

Turning the power up is good for defending as well. Having more power available can allow the driver to hit higher speeds on the straights and get better exits out of the corners. This is especially true when the following car will likely have DRS available to them. However, if the driver ahead uses too much of their ERS, they will be compromised and vulnerable to the car behind on the next lap.

One advantage the car ahead has is they will not be in the dirty air of another car. The attacking car will be close behind, which means their car’s engine may struggle with overheating. With the engine turned up, it could struggle even more with cooling, and it could cause severe damage to the engine if they are stuck behind the car for too long.

Qualifying

Qualifying is an important session, when the fastest driver claims pole position. Therefore, it’s important to extract as much performance out of the car as possible. Cars are often separated by mere hundredths of a second, and this is where having a more performance-focused engine mode can make a huge difference.

However, in 2020, a rule change came into effect (Technical Directive 37) that meant each F1 car had to run the same engine mode (primarily affecting the internal combustion component of the power unit) from the start of qualifying to the end of the race.

What Is Party Mode In F1?

Party Mode was a special engine mapping mode that ran the Mercedes engine at its maximum possible capacity. This was known as a qualifying mode, but the term Party Mode was introduced by Mercedes, and they used the Party Mode regularly to get an edge over their rivals.

Party Mode essentially put the engine into top gear. The engine’s fuel mixture would be made as rich as possible, the rev limit would be as high as possible, the ignition timing would be aggressive, and the battery would deploy all of its power throughout the lap.

This combination might give the engine its best possible performance, but it will also overheat quickly, use a lot of fuel, and if it’s used for too long the engine will deteriorate quickly. This is why it was mostly used in qualifying, when teams didn’t have to worry about the engine overheating. However, party mode was banned in 2020.

Why Was Party Mode Banned In F1?

Party mode was banned in F1 to help engine manufacturers cut development costs at a time when the budget cap and later the engine freeze were coming into play. It was also introduced in part to prevent teams from gaining a major advantage if their engine could be turned up far more than other teams.

The new regulations stated that teams must use the same engine mode during qualifying and the race. Essentially, it meant that if a team wanted to run a very high-performance engine mode in qualifying, they would also need to use it in the race. So, while they might qualify near the front of the grid, they would need to deal with the reliability risks of running that in the race.

This meant teams couldn’t gain such a big advantage in qualifying with effectively no reliability tradeoff in the race, as one lap at full power wouldn’t affect reliability too much, and they could just run lower-power engine modes in the race. However, the change didn’t really do much to affect the running order, as all teams were affected fairly equally.

Drivers can still change some of their engine mapping during a race, mainly on the ERS side of things. However, gone are the days of making major changes on demand. Drivers can also change their engine modes for reliability reasons during a race, on in laps, out laps, and formation laps, and on laps behind the safety car.

Final Thoughts

Engine mapping in F1 is an element that adjusts the level of performance a driver can get from the power unit. More aggressive engine mappings or engine modes will give the car better performance, but this comes with the tradeoffs of lower fuel efficiency and poorer engine reliability.